In search of Jets holdout Revis
Aliquippa football coach Mike Zmijanac was walking through a parking garage Sunday night in Downtown Pittsburgh after attending the stage play "Phantom of the Opera" when his phone rang.
The caller, a Tribune-Review reporter, was in search of another phantom, New York Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Zmijanac said he hadn't seen Revis, but others have spotted the NFL's most famous holdout everywhere from the fields at Aliquippa and Hopewell high schools to an apartment complex about a block from Aliquippa's main street, Franklin Avenue.
The reporter's assignment: Navigate Revis Island, find the former Pitt star and ask him if he plans to play this season.
The chase starts Monday morning when a TV news van -- surely, in town to interview Revis -- is spotted on Franklin Avenue. After following it for 5 miles, the reporter finds the van in a strip mall outside of town where it is revealed a scrapyard fire - not the NFL's reluctant warrior -- is the big story of the day.
That's OK. It's best to start at the source, anyway, and the next stop is The Pit, Aliquippa's legendary home field where Revis led the Quips to WPIAL and PIAA championships in 2003.
The story goes that Revis has been working out there while his agents argue with the Jets over millions of dollars. Sadly, the field is padlocked, and no one -- except a few construction workers -- is in sight.
Leaving the high school and rolling down the hill into town, the reporter stops at a convenience store. The man behind the counter says, yes, he has heard Revis is in town.
"Have you seen him?"
But a woman waiting in line says she had heard he was at Hopewell's Tony Dorsett Stadium.
It takes longer for Revis to return an interception 100 yards than it does to drive from The Pit to Hopewell, and the next thing you know, the reporter is in a classroom with football coach and astronomy teacher Dave Vestal.
Vestal is so eager to help in the search for Revis that when he turns on the lights of his darkened planetarium, you almost expect to see Revis sitting in a chair, pen in hand, preparing to sign a new Jets contract.
It turns out to be wishful thinking.
Vestal doesn't know the player's whereabouts, but he says Revis was at the school's track last week during football practice. There, some bold football players -- including star running back Rushel Shell -- challenged him to a race.
"But he turned them down," Vestal says. "He said it wouldn't be professional for him to race high school kids."
Undaunted, the reporter secures a phone number for Aileen Gilbert, who is Revis' grandmother.
A possible break in the case -- she says she has spoken to Revis.
"Of course, I talked to him -- I'm his grandmother," she says, a bit indignantly.
Unfortunately, Aileen is a wise woman, sensitive to her grandson's desire for privacy, and she refuses to even confirm he is in town.
Nothing left to do now -- but have lunch.
The choice is Wawro's on Franklin Avenue (try the sweet-and-spicy wings). Owner Mary Kay Wawro says she taught English at Aliquippa High School for 30 years.
"I didn't have (Revis) in class, but I know he is well-liked in the community," she says.
Seated at the bar, sipping slowly on his vodka and cranberry juice, a man who identifies himself only as "Rick" says he knows Revis' cousin.
"Drive me to work, and I'll show you," Rick says. "Darrelle has a gray Range Rover, and he parks it at his cousin's house."
The Range Rover is gone, but outside the apartment complex is Danae, who says she graduated from Aliquippa with Revis in 2004.
"Did you date him?"
"I wish I had," she says.
"Have you seen him?"
"No." Then, she asks: "If I had seen him, would you pay me for (the information)?"
Don't blame Danae. After all, money is at the root of the Revis story, is it not?
Danae's friend, who passionately asked not to be identified, isn't sure if she knew Revis, but she has some recollection of his holdout.
With a quizzical look, she asks: "Ain't he unemployed right now?"